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publication 426-418 Tomatoes Diane Relf, Retired Extension Specialist, Horticulture, Virginia Tech Alan McDaniel, Extension Specialist, Horticulture, Virginia Tech Ronald Morse, Former Associate Professor, Horticulture, Virginia Tech Environmental Preferences The varieties of tomato plants available may seem overwhelming to a new gardener; ask gardening friends LIGHT: Sunny. for the names of their favorites. This will give you a SOIL: Well-drained, loam. good idea of what does well in Virginia. Virginia FERTILITY: Medium-rich. Cooperative Extension Publication 426-480, Vegetables TEMPERATURE: Warm (70° to 80°F). Recommended for Virginia, may also be helpful. MOISTURE: Moist, but not waterlogged. Several major types of tomatoes exist that can be cho- Culture sen according to need: PLANTING: Transplant after all danger of frost is past and when the soil has warmed. SPACING: 18 to 36 inches by 36 inches if staked or caged. HARDINESS: Tender annual. FERTILIZER NEEDS: Heavy feeder. Use starter solu- tion for transplants. Sidedress one to two weeks after the first hand or cluster of tomatoes begin to develop with 3 tablespoons 33-0-0 per 10-foot row. Sidedress again two weeks after the first ripe tomato with a bal- anced fertilizer such as 5-10-5; repeat one month later. Cultural Practices Tomatoes are valuable garden plants in that they require relatively little space for large production. Each stan- Based on plant characteristics – dard tomato plant, properly cared for, yields 10 to 15 (a) Midget, patio, or dwarf tomato varieties have very pounds or more of fruit. compact vines best grown in hanging baskets or other containers. The tomatoes produced may be, Choose varieties with disease resistance bred in for best but are not necessarily, the cherry type (1 inch results. Letters after the variety name indicate tolerance diameter or less). Some produce larger fruit. These or resistance to the following: plants are usually short-lived, producing their crop Fusarium Wilts Race 1(F) quickly and for a short period. Early Blight (As) (b) Compact or determinate tomato plants refers to Fusarium Wilt Race 1 and Race 2 (FF) the plant habit of growing to a certain size, setting Bacterial speck Pseudomonas (B) fruit, and then declining. Most of the early ripening Root-knot Nematodes (N) tomato varieties are determinate and will not pro- Septoria leaf spot (L) duce tomatoes throughout a Virginia summer. Tobacco Mosaic Virus (T) (c) Indeterminate tomato plants are the opposite of the Stemphylium Gray leaf spot (St) determinate types. The vines continue to grow until Alternaria Stem Canker/Crown Wilt (A) www.ext.vt.edu Produced by Communications and Marketing, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2009 Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Mark A. McCann, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Alma C. Hobbs, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg. frost or disease kills them. These are the standard, be necessary. The seeds are sown six to eight weeks all-summer tomatoes that most people like to grow. before the last frost date in your area. A few weeks They require support of some kind for best results, before transplanting time, harden-off indoor-grown since otherwise the fruit would be in contact with plants by exposing them to an increasing number of the soil, thus susceptible to rot. hours outdoors each day. Bring plants in if there is dan- ger of frost. A few varieties of tomato (the sub-arctics) Based on fruit characteristics – are bred to grow well in low spring temperatures; how- ever, these are rarely available in the usual markets and (a) Cherry tomatoes have small, cherry-sized (or a ordinarily must be grown from seed. little larger) fruits often used in salads. Plants of cherry tomatoes range from dwarf (Tiny Tim) to When you are ready seven-footers (Sweet 100). One standard cherry to put home-grown tomato plant is usually sufficient for a family, since or purchased plants they generally produce abundantly. into the ground, select stocky trans- (b) Beefsteak type tomatoes are large-fruited types, plants about 6 to 10 producing a tomato slice that easily covers a sand- inches tall. Set wich, the whole fruit weighing as much as two tomato transplants pounds or more. These are usually late to ripen, so in the ground cov- plant some standard-sized or early tomatoes for ering the stems so longest harvest. that only two or three sets of true (c) Paste tomatoes have pear-shaped fruits with very leaves are exposed. meaty interiors and few seeds. They are less juicy Horizontal planting of tomato plants is an effective way than standard tomatoes and are without a sizeable to make plants grow stronger, especially leggy ones. central core. Paste tomatoes are a favorite for can- Roots will form along the buried portion of the stem, ning since they don’t have to be cut up and since giving better growth and less chance of plant injury they are so meaty. from a too-weak stem. Do not remove the containers if (d) Color of tomatoes include orange, yellow, pink, or they are peat or paper pots, but open or tear off one side striped, and often the only way to get a specific one to allow roots to get a good start. If non-biodegradable is by growing your own. Most are heritage varieties containers are used, knock the plants out of the pots obtained through seed-saver groups. Tests have before transplanting, and loosen the roots somewhat. shown that there is no relationship between color Press the soil firmly around the transplant so that a and acidity of tomatoes. slight depression is formed for holding water. Pour approximately one pint of starter solution or dilute fish (e) Winter storage tomatoes are a relatively new item emulsion around each plant to wash the soil around the for gardeners. The plants are set out later in the roots. season than most tomatoes and fruit are harvested partially ripe. If properly stored, they will stay fresh for twelve weeks or more. While the flavor does not equal that of summer vine-ripened tomatoes, many people prefer them to grocery store tomatoes in winter. Planting Tomatoes Tomato plants may be started indoors from seed or transplants may be purchased. If starting your own plants, use a light soil mix and give the plants plenty of light. Tall, spindly transplants are usually caused by low light levels in the home. Unless you have a sunny, south-facing window, supplemental light will probably Plants should be staked or caged. Though it requires than staked plants. However, it helps to space the plants more initial work, this makes caring for tomatoes easi- somewhat further apart (3 feet is good) to allow good er than letting them sprawl. Since they are off the air circulation between plants; humidity is higher ground, fruit rots are reduced, spraying is easier and because of the foliage density, and diseases, such as may be required less, and harvesting is much less work. late blight, spread rapidly in humid situations. If well- For staking, space them 24 inches apart in rows 3 feet nourished and cared for, caged tomatoes can produce apart. Use wooden stakes 6 feet long and 1 1 /2 or 2 exceptional harvests and make up for the extra space inches wide. Drive them 1 foot into the soil about 4 to with high production. This type of culture is especially 6 inches from the plant soon after transplanting. Attach suited to indeterminate varieties. heavy twine or strips of cloth to the stakes every 10 inches. As the plants grow, pull the stems toward the stakes and tie loosely. Prune staked tomatoes to either Causes of Poor Tomato Fruit Set one or two main stems. At the junction of each leaf and Fruit Set. The transition of a flower into a young fruit the first main stem a new shoot will develop. If plants is very sensitive to several environmental factors over are trained to two stems, choose one of these shoots, which gardeners have some control. Following is a normally at the first or second leaf-stem junction, for brief discussion of some of the causes of poor tomato the second main stem. Remove all other shoots, called fruit set with particular emphasis on urban gardening. suckers, weekly to keep the plant to these two main stems. Pinch shoots off with your fingers. Tomato Temperature and Humidity. Daytime temperatures plants may also be set along a fence or trellis and tied above 90°F and night temperatures above 70°F result and pruned in a manner similar to that used with in reduced flowering and fruit set. There is consider- stakes. able evidence that night temperature is the critical fac- tor in setting tomato fruit, the optimal range being 59° Growing tomatoes in wire cages is one method popular to 68°F. With night temperatures much below or above among gardeners because of its simplicity. Cage- this critical range, fruiting is reduced or absent. Low growing allows the tomato plant to grow in its natural temperatures reduce the production and viability of manner, but keeps the fruit and leaves off the ground. pollen. High temperature, especially if accompanied Using wire cages requires a large initial expenditure by low humidity and moisture, hinders fruit set through and a large storage area, but many gardeners feel that failure in pollination and/or fertilization. the freedom from pruning and staking is worth it. The cages, if heavy duty, will last many years. Be sure to Plant Nutrition. Reduced fruiting may result from get fencing with at least 6 inch spacing between wires either stunted or excessively vigorous vegetative so that you can get your hand inside to harvest the growth. Injury from disease and insects, especially tomatoes. If tomato plants in wire cages are pruned at sucking insects such as aphids and thrips, can severely all, once is enough; prune to three or four main stems. check growth. Inadequate moisture and/or available Wire-cage tomatoes nitrogen can hinder growth and flower production. develop a heavy foli- Conversely, abundant water and nitrogen can stimulate age cover, reducing rapid vegetative growth with low levels of carbohy- sunscald on fruits and drates remaining for the normal processes involved in giving more leeway fruit set. when bottom leaves Garden sites located on heavy subsoils are infertile and become blighted and poorly drained. Gardeners create faulty nutrition by have to be removed. either not applying any fertilizer or by adding too Many staked plants are much. In addition, water for irrigation is often not nearly naked by late available during times of drought. summer. Caged plants are less prone to the Photoperiod (length of day). Although the tomato spread of disease from plant can flower and fruit at any daylength (day neutral plant handling, since plant), fruit set has been shown to be retarded under they do not have open continuous light. Thus, tomato fruit set may be reduced wounds and must be under the continuous illumination characteristic of handled less frequently some environments. Common Problems performance, they can be grown in your garden, but probably never found in a supermarket. DISEASES: Early blight, septoria leafspot, verticillium and fusarium wilts, late blight, tobacco mosaic virus, With the change in trends of food production after bacterial spot. WWII, there came a need to develop tomatoes that could be harvested green, withstand shipping, etc., and INSECTS: Flea beetle, hornworm, stink bugs, Colorado maintain a good, uniform appearance. These qualities potato beetle, fruitworm, aphids, mites, whiteflies, cut- were achieved through hybridizing. The sacrifice of worms, Japanese beetles. this breeding was flavor – which, in recent years, sci- OTHER PESTS: Nematodes. entists have been trying to re-introduce. Though hybridized tomatoes have their place, heirloom toma- CULTURAL: Blossom-end rot, irregular soil moisture toes definitely surpass them in one general characteris- or calcium deficiency; poor color, yellow spots or large tic – their taste. whitish-gray spots, sunscald from lack of foliage cover; leaf roll, physiological condition often found in pruned Here are some common heirloom tomato varieties you tomatoes; fruit cracking, irregular soil moisture; black may want to try: walnut wilt, caused by roots of tomato plants coming in contact with toxin from black walnut tree. • Big Rainbow – This very large tomato is a gold/red bicolor, and is described as being meaty and mild- flavored. Harvesting And Storage DAYS TO MATURITY: 55 to 105 days. • Brandywine – This large beefsteak variety tomato is legendary for it’s “exceptionally rich, succulent fla- HARVEST: Harvest fully vine-ripened but still firm. vor” and “old-fashioned tomato taste.” An Amish Picked tomatoes should be placed in shade. Light is not heirloom, it is solid pink-red. necessary for ripening immature tomatoes but it is nec- essary for color development. Some green tomatoes • Black Krim – This Russian beefsteak variety is deep may be picked before the first killing frost and stored maroon red when ripe. It is a medium-sized tomato in a cool (55°F), moist (90% relative humidity) place. that has a “rich” flavor. When desired, ripen fruits at 70°F. • Evergreen – When ripe, this juicy and flavorful APPROXIMATE YIELDS: 15 to 45 pounds per 10-foot tomato is green with yellow highlights. row. • Green Zebra – This green and yellow tomato has “a AMOUNT TO RAISE: 20 to 25 pounds per person if sweet zingy flavor” and is “as sweet as an apple.” It used fresh; 25 to 40 pounds for canning. is beautiful when served with yellow, red, orange and pink varieties. STORAGE: Medium-cool (50° to 70°F), moist (90% relative humidity) conditions for one to three weeks for • Stupice – This smallish Czechoslavakian tomato is green tomatoes. Cool (45° to 50°F), moist (90% rela- great for northern climates, is early to ripen, and is tive humidity) conditions for four to seven days for ripe very productive. It is a smooth red tomato with great tomatoes. flavor. PRESERVATION: Can or freeze as sauces or in chunks • Yellow Pear – This variety produces an endless sup- (whole or quartered), peeled. ply of yellow, bite-sized, pear-shaped fruit that have a mild flavor. Heirloom Tomatoes Check the Internet for current sources of plants, seeds Heirloom tomato varieties are treasures from the and information, or contact your local Virginia past. Chosen for outstanding flavor, color, or overall Cooperative Extension Office for sources. For information on frost protection for tomatoes and other early transplants, see Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-381, Season Extenders.
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